It’s been a while since I really looked at my garden. Not just a quick glance, or a “hmm, looks ok” – but a close look at what works, what doesn’t, and what I need to do to keep it healthy and beautiful.
Thankfully, there are no real disease or pest problems. I garden organically, with no pesticides of any kind (not even “organic pesticides” – I figure that if I’m killing insects with some sort of chemical, no matter how it’s derived, then I’m probably doing more harm than good). The end result is a garden with a few notched leaves here and there, the odd aphid infestation, and an occasional ratty-looking flower. But, more often than not, the notched leaves are from leaf-cutter bees making nests, the aphids bring in bright red ladybugs, and the torn flowers look beautiful in a bouquet of mixed blooms. So I continue to let Mother Nature have her way.
As for design – that’s another story. Parts of the garden are beautiful, parts are so-so, and other parts are in desperate need of a design intervention. But those aren’t the parts I’ll show you today! Instead, here are a few of the plant combinations that are looking good this September.
This post has moved to my new blog at Growing Weeds – And Other Gardening Mistakes…
Excerpt: Let me say up front that I love daylilies. I think they’re some of the most gorgeous flowers available for the home garden. … But the daylilies I’m referring to are NOT the ones usually seen in landscapes here in the Northeast. Instead of brightening up the garden with a kaleidoscope of color, landscapers and homeowners use the small, boring (supposedly reblooming) Stella d’Oro … [Read more ...]
Many consumers don’t realize that the FDA does not require genetically modified food to be labeled. That’s because the FDA, in all its wisdom, has decided that you don’t care if the tomato you are eating has been cross bred with frog genes to render the tomato more resistant to cold weather.
Some consumers may not be concerned with eating “Franken Food”, but for those who are, here is how to determine if the fruits and vegetables you’re buying are (GM) genetically modified.
For conventionally grown fruit (grown with chemical inputs), the PLU code on the sticker consists of four numbers. Organically grown fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 9. Genetically engineered (GM) fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 8. Example: A conventionally grown banana would be 4011. An organically grown banana would be 94011. A genetically engineered banana would be 84011.
(Reprinted from The Dirt Doctor™ newsletter by Howard Garrett)
My property was certified a couple of years ago by the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat. At the time, I made a conscious decision to focus my habitat-creating efforts on the back yard, out of sight of neighbors and passersby who might not appreciate the beauty of a more natural landscape. The front yard is filled mostly with native plants, but is kept neatly trimmed, with defined borders and a green (and organically-maintained) lawn.
People tell me that I’ve “sold out”, that I’ve “caved in to conformity”, and that nothing will change unless people like me “take pride in nature.” What they mean is that, by making my front yard fit in with the neighborhood, I’ve somehow damaged the cause of organizations that promote natural habitats. That, somehow, I’m ashamed of nature. Huh????
What they seem to miss is that “natural” doesn’t have to mean overgrown, wild, or unkempt. Wildlife need four things: food, water, cover, and a place to raise their young – all of which are provided in my beautiful, pesticide-free front yard (although the certification was based primarily on my back yard, I’ve also incorporated the necessary components into my front yard). They don’t need an impenetrable thicket, swamp, or mass of wildflowers (not that any of those would be unwelcome to many wildlife).
By making my front yard look somewhat similar to what is considered “normal landscaping” around here, I’m showing people how they can create a more natural environment while staying within their comfort zone. The Certified Wildlife Habitat sign is prominently displayed by the walkway to the front door, inviting questions from many visitors who are surprised to learn that the front yard is indeed a wildlife habitat. My back yard is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but few would argue that the front yard is ugly, showing that even a small piece of land can be both a wildlife habitat and beautiful.
My belief is that more people can be encouraged to create spaces for wildlife if they see firsthand that they don’t need to grow a meadow or a tree plantation. Already, one of my neighbors has removed a large section of lawn and added native plants to her front yard. Others have started planting shrubs and flowers for butterflies. Slowly, we are transforming our small section of town into a haven for wildlife. And it all started with a cleverly “disguised” wildlife habitat…
What have been your experiences with wildlife habitats and natural gardens?
This review has moved to the Gardening Products Review website. Please visit to read all about it!
“I’ve talked about women’s gardening gloves before so you know that I’m not easily swayed by a pretty design, woman-focused marketing, or a good price. But I have to say that the new Ethel gardening gloves are…” [Read the review here]
Think about your style. Look at your wardrobe, the interior of you home, the type of art you like. Is it bright, flamboyant, and colorful? Subdued? Curvaceous? Linear? Casual? Elegant? Formal? If you’re not sure about your design style, ask your friends and family. It’s surprising how easily they can describe your style!
Style can, and should, be translated to your garden. We generally feel more comfortable in spaces that reflect who we are, that reflect our style.
However, do take a cue from the style of your home when designing your garden. If it’s a formal Colonial, a Japanese zen garden might look out of place, as would a formal garden surrounding a cottage-style house. The area directly around the home should reflect the home’s style so that it feels like the house “fits” into the surrounding garden.
A garden doesn’t need to be all the same style (although it’s definitely easier to design a garden with one unifying style). As you move farther away from the house, the garden’s style can slowly shift. Don’t make any dramatic changes as you move from one style to another, keep everything in proportion, and include a few unifying plants, objects, or materials in all styles. I’ll be talking more about this in upcoming Garden Design posts.
Above all, be true to yourself. Your garden is yours – it’s not for the neighbors, the potential next buyers of your home, or the local garden club ‘gurus’. Go with a style that makes you happy. And remember that nothing is irreversible. As your style evolves over time, so will your garden. Part of the joy of gardening is constantly ‘tweaking’ your garden
P.S. Get here from a link from a friend, or Twitter? This design tip is part of an ongoing series on the essential concepts of garden design, without the fancy Latin names and eye-glazing theoretical background. Learn more about it and sign up here.
P.P.S. Got a design question I haven’t answered yet? Just leave a comment and you might see your answer in an upcoming Garden Design post!
Take a good look around your garden. Are any plants spaced too closely together? Does it look like an overgrown jungle? Or are you looking at patches of bare ground? None of these are particularly attractive looks for a garden, but are easily avoided by doing one simple thing – reading and following the spacing recommendation on the plant label.
Proper plant spacing is determined by the mature size of the plant, not by the size when you buy it. So many gardeners look at a small, 1-gallon plant and think “It’s really little. If I plant these 20” apart like the label says, there’ll be far too much empty space between the plants. I’ll space them 10” apart instead.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? But the next year, you’ll be digging up overcrowded plants and spacing them 20” apart!
From a design perspective, sometimes you do want plants to grow into each other for a more casual look, to provide support for ‘floppy’ plants, or to hide unsightly foliage from plants that are going dormant or have leggy stems. However, this doesn’t mean that plants should be packed in next to each other. They still need space for air to circulate to prevent disease like powdery mildew and other fungal problems.
As you design your garden, plan out plant spacing on paper and follow your plan by using a measuring tape or yard-stick when planting. This will prevent you from ‘eyeballing’ spacing distances when you’re planting – we all have a tendency to underestimate distances, causing us to plant things too closely. Working from a paper design plan and measuring carefully will keep you honest!
So read the plant label carefully and don’t be tempted to plant closer than the label suggests – you’ll just be making more work for yourself next year!
Get here from a link from a friend, or Twitter? This design tip is part of an ongoing series on the essential concepts of garden design, without the fancy Latin names and eye-glazing theoretical background. Learn more about it and sign up here.